Kiran Ahluwalia wallows in desert rhthyms
It seems appropriate that “Mustt Mustt” makes not one, not two, but three appearances on Kiran Ahluwalia’s new record. After all, it was the song that brought the Indo-Canadian musician and the legendary Tuareg band Tinariwen together in the first place.
“’Mustt Mustt’ is a classic song from the Muslim culture of Pakistan,” explains Ahluwalia, who will be performing in Victoria on Feb. 2. “I wanted to do it specifically with Tinariwen because I wanted to interpret it with Muslims from Africa.”
So the Juno-winning Ahluwalia — known for her performances and arrangements of Punjabi folk songs and ghazals, an ancient form of Persian poetry — and her band met up with Tinariwen, who hail from the Sahara desert in northern Mali, in Paris for a recording session.
“From the very moment that I met them, it was as if I was meeting my cousins and my relatives who had been behind a wall and we hadn’t been allowed to be together — and yet we had always been connected,” she recalls. “It was very inexplicable, but I felt as if either they were Indian or I was African. I felt that we were from the same community.”
The collaboration didn’t stop with that magical session in France; members of Tinariwen travelled to Toronto and New York City — where Ahluwalia now spends most of her time — to continue to work with her on the record. She also recorded a song, “Rabba Ru,” with Terakaft, another Tuareg group. In the spirit of the musical exchange, Ahluwalia called the resulting album Aam Zameen: Common Ground. In addition to the three versions of “Mustt Mustt” — the nearly nine-minute original, a shortened version and a slower redux — the album features a cover of the Tinariwen song “Matadjem,” Punjabi folk songs and ghazals heavily influenced by the bluesy Tuareg rhythms and two songs with lyrics penned by Ahluwalia herself, something she had never done before.
“The poetry of ghazals are a very literary form of poetry, so you have to be a bona fide ghazal writer who has spent their entire life studying this form,” she says of her usual approach. “For this album, as I was imagining the music and the Tuareg rhythms that I was entranced by, the ones I wanted to use, I wasn’t able to find anything in the ghazal repertoire that would allow me to mold a melody and invite the Tuaregs to play with it. . . . so it wasn’t that I had this huge desire or need to start writing poetry; it was really a bit of a frustration.”
And while the musicians of Tinariwen and Terakaft won’t be joining Ahluwalia on the tour, audiences can still look forward to hearing their influence. “They won’t be with us in Victoria, but their stamp is all over us.” M